Friday, February 17, 2012

A Week That Just Flew By. While it remains to be seen how much progress was made during this week, it certainly was a busy week for education-related policy at the Capitol. The action took place in the House and Senate education-related committees, the House and Senate tax committees, and the House and Senate floors.

The first step toward the repeal of teacher tenure on the House floor took place with the passage of HF 1870 (B. Petersen-R-Andover) by a vote of 68-61, with several majority legislators voting against the measure. The long debate I expected didn't materialize, as a motion to send the bill back to committee failed on a 60-70 vote and only one amendment was offered. The amendment, which states explicitly that a teacher's earnings cannot be used as the reason for placing a teacher on unrequested leave of absence or demotion, passed on voice vote. I doubt the inclusion of the amendment will mollify Education Minnesota to the extent it will support the bill, but it clearly marks some sensitivity toward the argument that the "teacher quality" effort is less about effectiveness and more about efficiency.

SF 247, the bill which requires school board approval before a local bargaining unit can move its health care coverage to the Public Employee Insurance Program (PEIP), also passed the House floor on a vote of 71-58. The House author of SF 247 is Representative Joe Hoppe, a Republican from Chaska. With the inability of the statewide health care pool proposed by Education Minnesota to successfully become law, many local teacher bargaining units have proposed to move to the PEIP program. In some instances, the PEIP insurance is more expensive than the coverage that a district currently provides. SF 247 would ensure that health coverage remain a "bargained" issue at the local level and that both school boards and local bargaining units would have to approve a move to PEIP.

Not to be left out of the education debate, the Senate gave preliminary approval to SF 1073 (Nelson-R-Rochester), a bill that "encourages" school districts to assist students to plan their academic courseload to make them more prepared for college and career. The bill states that the assistance should be made available to students no later than the ninth grade. This is permissive language, so it cannot be classified as a mandate, but the author believes the language will highlight the need for students to be more intentional about their post-high school plans and for schools to help them prepare for success. SF 1073 will be up for final approval on Monday.

Tax Committee Is the Place to Be. It's always fun to wander into the Tax Committee (both in the House and Senate) and I'm hoping to do more of it during the remainder of this session and in future sessions. Property tax inequity is SEE's top issue and I had the opportunity to discuss that inequity during the Senate's hearing on the report on the Metropolitan Fiscal Disparities Program on Thursday. I've been singing the praises of Senate Tax Chair Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) for the past couple of weeks for her interest in school levies and the Tax Committee's role in monitoring those levies. Thursday's hearing was another instance where the discussion of education levies--although not central to the discussion of the fiscal disparities program--was aired.

It will probably be a long slog, but involving the House and Senate tax committees in the discussion of the equalization programs relating to education levies and the need for greater property tax fairness on education-related levies is crucial to SEE being successful in its mission to make certain that "education by zip code" does become entrenched in Minnesota's education funding system.

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